This editorial article is a part of State of Local Tech Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.
The founder of a writing center at one of Baltimore’s premiere high schools capped its participation in a Johns Hopkins University (JHU)-affiliated accelerator program by winning two grand of funding.
Constituents of JHU and the city that surrounds its main campus recently came together to celebrate the achievements of innovative, mission-driven ventures and disruptive technologies (and, importantly, their founders) that participated in the renowned Social Innovation Lab. With a diverse cohort consisting of both university-affiliated teams and community-based startups, this year’s event marked another milestone for the program.
Past members of this accelerator include Nneka N’namdi, Brittany Young, and Bree Jones. Three teams in this year’s cohort were from JHU and seven are from the greater Baltimore community. 90% percent of the teams are led by founders of color, while a separate 90% are co-headed by woman entrepreneurs.
Lena Tashjian, a teacher and the founder of the Baltimore City College High School Writing Center and Believe and Achieve Tutoring Association, received the esteemed Cohort Prize, which came with a substantial $20,000 in funding. Anthony Roberts, a 2022 OSI Baltimore Community Fellow and a member of the 2023 JHU Social Innovation Lab Cohort, expressed his admiration for Tashjian’s transformative work within the Baltimore City Public School System, stating on LinkedIn: “Lena’s work is transformative and very much needed.”
The Audience Choice Awards were presented to R.I.S.E. Arts Center, led by Kammeran Giggers; and Seedling Hydroponics, led by Arshdeep Singh, Ahkil Atluri, Amy Liu, Anthony Han, Nathan Ji and William Blair. Each of these teams was granted $4,000 in recognition of their significant contributions to the showcase.
Not all of the founders involved needed to win these prizes to feel gratified, though.
“I am proud to say that we did not win the $20,000 cohort prize at the Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab this year,” said Stacy Stube, founder of participant Sew Bromo, on LinkedIn. “Our team, Sew Bromo, worked incredibly hard, as did our peers in the program. However, winning or losing a prize does not define our success. We believe that true transformation happens when we stand together to reshape industries and challenge social norms that are in dire need of reconstruction. We embrace the opportunity to intertwine these threads and forge ahead, creating a strong bond with the lives of the skilled stitchers who once formed the backbone of Baltimore’s garment industry.”
Recognizing the work of all ten Social Innovation Lab teams, each team received $5,000 in non-dilutive and unrestricted funding. This financial support plays a vital role in enabling these startups to continue their mission-driven endeavors and create a sustainable impact in Baltimore’s communities.
“We are truly inspired by the work of all 10 of our Social Innovation Lab teams who are doing transformational work to impact Baltimore communities,” Anthony Watters, director of the Social Innovation Labs, said on LinkedIn. “I believe that social enterprises are the catalyst to solving Baltimore’s most challenging problems by creating sustainable impact, while also spurring economic growth.”
This year’s cohort comprised of the following teams:
- Reveille Grounds, led by Katie Kilby, works with veterans to give them a “third place” and networking connections for career and life success.
- Sew Bromo, led by Stacy Stube, is a fashion education incubator that provides specialized industry knowledge from hobbyists to startup entrepreneurs.
- R.I.S.E. Arts Center, led by Kammeran Giggers, provides arts education for youth and young adults to foster personal and artistic growth through visual art exhibitions, theater, musical performances, dance recitals and creative writing presentations.
- Phase 3, led by Anthony Roberts, is an occupational skills training program that brings quality instruction and skill training to marginalized communities, leading to employment within the elevator and escalator repair industry.
- Fosterpreneur, led by Erica Myers and William Honablew Jr. Fosterpreneur offers foster care youth and alumni employment opportunities, skill training, financial guidance and counseling to develop a career plan, networking connections and education opportunities.
- Baltimore City College High School Writing Center, led by Lena Tashjian. The Baltimore Writing Center is a student-run high school writing program with ambitions for becoming a citywide workforce development program. It provides students with the support necessary to become effective writers.
- Meridian Health, led by Aishwarya Tare, is an app geared toward Gen Z health that utilizes chatbot artificial intelligence and data science to ensure care continuity, diminish barriers to health and promote preventative wellness habits.
- Kamoky, led by Toyin Ajisemola and Peju Awodipe, is an app that helps consumers find and connect with minority business owners. It also promotes these entrepreneurs’ restaurants, stores and services.
- Knowboundary, led by Peter Penar, Violet Acumo and Eva Penar. Knowboundary facilitates a supportive Pan-African community for collaboration that cultivates impactful and translatable research, amplifies diverse perspectives and leverages creative audiovisual, graphic and technological design.
- Seedling Hydroponics, led by Arshdeep Singh, Ahkil Atluri, Amy Liu, Anthony Han, Nathan Ji and William Blair. Seedling combats food insecurity, expands fresh food education and builds community partnerships to provide consistent access to healthy, fresh produce across Baltimore neighborhoods.
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